Chief Content Officer,
Techstrong Group


In this Digital CxO Leadership Insights series video, Mike Vizard speaks with Alejandro Rivas-Micoud, CEO of Userlytics, about user interfaces.



Mike Vizard: Hey, guys. Welcome to another edition of the Digital CxO videocast. I’m Mike Vizard. Today we’re with Alejandro Rivas-Micoud, CEO of Userlytics. We are going to talk about user interfaces.

Hey, Alejandro. Welcome to the show.

A. Rivas-Micoud: Hey, Michael. Thanks for having me.

Mike Vizard: I think people take user interfaces for granted, but in the age of digital business transformation, do you think this whole topic is getting a second look? Because, at least in my mind, user interfaces and customer experience may even be one and the same thing.

A. Rivas-Micoud: Yes indeed. If you take the example of somebody who goes to a restaurant, nowadays, more so than before, it’s no longer the price or the quality of food. It’s the experience. It’s the memory.

Now if you’re in a restaurant and you’re having a bad experience, changing to a different restaurant, well, you’ve got to get up from the table, walk out the door, find another place, maybe have a reservation. But if it’s digital, it’s one click away, less than a second. So it’s tremendously important that the user experience be well-designed, well-thought out, well-tested, absolutely.

Mike Vizard: One of the things, too, that might get overlooked is when we have these big, giant PCs there’s a lot of real estate, but most of what’s occurring these days is through a mobile interface. That’s how people are engaging with various backend processes.

I think designing for mobile is a lot harder and people don’t always get that right either, because a) it’s smaller, but b) the latencies are less forgiving. People require – I can’t fat finger my way through a bunch of different text boxes. So what should people be thinking about as it relates to mobile user interfaces in particular?

A. Rivas-Micoud: I think they’re both important. You’re right that it is more challenging due to less real estate, and not just less real estate, but also we’ve become used to on the desktop, since the invention of the mouse, that’s what we use. That’s what we’re accustomed to. But when you move on to either a tablet or a mobile device, the whole way of interacting with the device is quite different.

So yes, it does represent more challenges. But in both cases, one of the things that I like to point out is that you may be finding 90 percent or 80 percent or 95 percent of people are able to achieve the objectives that I set out for them.

However, if just 5 percent or 10 percent are essentially tripping on a fold in the rug from a user experience and user interface point of view, then if you manage to smooth over that fold in the rug, whether it’s mobile or desktop, the other 90 or 95 percent who may be smart enough or lucky enough or what have you that they didn’t trip over that fold in the rug, they will appreciate that. Maybe subconsciously instead of consciously, but they’ll just feel this is a better experience, and that’s what it’s about.

Mike Vizard: What are the most common mistakes that you see organizations make when it comes to user interface? What should a digital CXO be on the lookout for?

A. Rivas-Micoud: I think that all of us are accustomed to planning, “Okay. I need so many developers, so many _____, so many designers, et cetera. Then we’ll do some testing to make sure there are no bugs. Then we’ll just do usability testing or user experience testing at some point in the process.” Checkmark and that’s it.

Now the longer the process is, the higher the probability that when usability issues are uncovered it’s late in the project. There are deadlines to meet. So we try to justify to ourselves why it’s going to be okay, or we come up with a solution but don’t test it thoroughly, et cetera.

In the old days, this was necessary because in order to do usability or user experience research, you had to invite people into a laboratory. That logistically presented challenges, took time, was costly, et cetera. Nowadays, you can set up a test in five minutes and have results within hours.

So you really need to embed into the design and development process user experience research or usability testing. So in every sprint, whether it’s a weekly sprint, a biweekly sprint, however you’ve set up your flow, you should have that continuously as the prototype goes from basic ideation and exploratory research into high-fidelity prototype, and even after launch because we still may have missed something. So when we launch it, we should still continue to test and benchmark against the competition to make sure we get it right.

Investing in this, in my view, has the highest return on investment of any activity, bar none, that you can do. You can invest in marketing, sales, product development. If you invest in user experience research seriously, that will have a much bigger impact on the bottom line and on market share and valuation than anything else a CEO could do.

Mike Vizard: With all due respect to our friends who are application developers, I don’t think they think like the normal person does. I think that they are – not that they’re abnormal, but it’s just that they have a left brain versus a right brain kind of construct and maybe they’re a little more science or technically-oriented. So do you think there is something of a disconnect between the way developers and IT people think about how to use applications versus the average person?

A. Rivas-Micoud: There’s always going to be a natural disconnect, because as a developer you have advanced IT skills. You know certain things about the way things work. And the average user may have a completely different set of lifetime experience interacting with digital technologies. So things that are obvious and apparent to a developer will not necessarily be obvious or apparent to an average person. So that’s one disconnect.

But even going beyond that, even if it was exactly the same, if they have the same background, culture, mindset, left brain, everything, it’s always good to have somebody else, a fresh pair of eyes look over what you’ve done, whether you’re composing an e-mail or developing a user interface, because you get used to your own work.

That’s the way our brains work. They disregard. They don’t even look at certain things because they think it’s already there or they know it’s already there. So if somebody comes with a fresh set of eyes, they’ll find typos. They’ll find grammatical errors. They’ll find all kinds of things. That’s just in composing an e-mail, let alone a user interface.

Mike Vizard: Yeah. In testing before I put the application out there, are there indications of a suboptimal user interface experience that people should be looking for once the application is deployed? Are there any tells, giveaways, things that I should be thinking about as I look at usage patterns?

A. Rivas-Micoud: Certainly when you do launch a product, you should definitely be looking closely at Google Analytics or whatever platform you use to analyze, and see if there are increased drop-offs or if there are changes in the patterns from one step in the flow to the other step in the flow. So that’s one thing.

Another thing that’s quite important I would say is customer service complaints, whether that’s through a chat, a chat bot, a telephone line. Frequently companies, what they do is they outsource their customer service to – you know, it’s a call center or it’s a chat bot plus a call center, or it’s a chat bot plus a chat center or whatever you want to call it. It’s an outsourced activity. They pay by the hour or they pay in some other fashion.

The information that’s going there in terms of telling the organization what’s not working, not necessarily from a bug perspective, but from a usability perspective, is priceless and frequently underutilized by the organization because it’s just kind of out there. It’s invisible to us.

So paying attention to that and seeing has there been any change in the number of calls, complains, chat requests or whatever. Is there a qualitative change of any type? That may be a clue that something is going on.

But beyond that, as mentioned before, I would just do some regular remote usability tests once it’s launched in production and compare against the competition, which ideally you have done also before launching and way before, so that you can kind of see what the change is. Have you achieved your goal? Has there been a measurable impact in your redesign?

Mike Vizard: What will the interface of the future be exactly? Because we talk about user interfaces as if they’re graphical, but we’re starting to see speech interfaces and all these other types of ways of engaging. So will I need to employ a mix of different UI experiences?

A. Rivas-Micoud: That’s a great question and I wish I knew the answer, because I think that nobody really does. Organizations like Facebook, and even Bill Gates the other day, are betting on interfaces built around virtual reality or augmented reality, forcing people to wear these funky looking glasses.

It may happen. I’m not a prophet. I don’t know. I have a little bit of skepticism that people are prepared to – you know, look at the way we behave with Instagram and everything else. People are interested in their appearance, and I’m not sure everybody wants to wear these things on their head.

So I would argue that the technology is not yet there, but that once holographic technology plus speech recognition reaches a certain tipping point, then we will not be using special glasses or anything like that. We’ll probably have some kind of device that projects holographically.

This technology already exists, by the way. You can project onto a desktop and interact by just pressing on the desktop, and the hologram recognized that and interacts. So those kinds of things plus speech recognition or maybe just speech recognition. I don’t know, but definitely the question is a great one because there’s going to be huge changes. I just don’t know which ones or when.

Mike Vizard: What do you think the role of artificial intelligence is going to be? We see Siri and some of these other things that are out there. Is that stuff going to go mainstream, is mainstream in your mind? Do certain people use it better than others? What’s your sense of that? How critical is it to have that kind of capability?

A. Rivas-Micoud: Well artificial intelligence is already permeating in many different places. We ourselves at Userlytics are working on a project to leverage artificial intelligence and machine learning to automatically identify from a video recording that might last 30 or 60 minutes, and a client might have launched ten of those. So there’s 300 or 600 minutes of recording there. It’s a lot of video to go through and listen to. It’s full of insights, but it’s a lot.

So our system is designed to identify automatically, “You should probably look at minute 2 second 30, and at minute 5 second 20,” et cetera, so that our clients, and we ourselves when we’re helping our clients analyze things, can rapidly go to those moments in the video that according to our AI system are of most interest.

That’s just one application of AI and machine learning. It’s permeating everywhere. It’s a little bit worrisome I must say. Reading the old science fiction novels from the ’50s and ’60s and ’70s, one can be a little bit worried about where all this is heading, but it’s also fascinating at the same time.

Mike Vizard: All right. Well under that heading, it should be a) do no harm, b) no matter what Alejandro says, you should watch this video from end-to-end and not stop in the middle of it along the way.

Alejandro, thanks for being on the show.

A. Rivas-Micoud: Thank you so much, Michael. I’m delighted to be here.

Mike Vizard: All right. Thank you all for spending some time with us. Take care.

A. Rivas-Micoud: Thank you.

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